Businesses in the US are required to follow the standards set by the WCAG when it comes to accessibility. The WCAG, which stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, provides companies and organizations with a blueprint to follow to ensure that people with disabilities receive equal opportunities to access and enjoy their services. This includes providing disabled people with a fair and satisfying browsing experience on their websites.
The guidelines set by the WCAG aren’t just being followed in the US, they are also being used as the standard for other countries in setting their own web accessibility rules and regulations. To better understand the WCAG, here are a few things you might want to know:
- The very first version of the WCAG was published by the World Wide Web Consortium in 1999, with the goal of standardizing web protocols so that every internet website and page would be compatible with one another.
- The WCAG relies on four core principles in determining web accessibility. A website has to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for it to pass WCAG standards.
- To provide better standards for web accessibility, the WCAG receives significant updates as necessary to ensure that it stays up to date with the most current trends in technology.
Who Created the WCAG?
The WCAG was created by the W3C, also known as the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C was founded way back in October 1994 when global web activity started rising to significant levels.
Formed in the halls of MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT/LCS), the W3C was originally founded by an assortment of members, including top scientists and early internet experts. By the end of 2019, W3C had grown to more than 440 members, with leaders from various businesses and industries joining the fray. There are representatives from universities, nonprofit organizations, and government entities.
One of the issues that the W3C wanted to address early on was web accessibility. The organization understood that the internet will play a strong role in the future, and as such, they wanted to standardize web protocols so that all company websites and internet tools would prove to be compatible with each other.
The first WCAG was published in 1999, and it was revised in 2008 as WCAG 2.0 after the organization applied changes based on feedback from relevant industries. Ten years later, the W3C rolled out WCAG 2.1, the one we currently use, after again considering the changes brought by the new decade in terms of internet options and accessibility concerns.
Whenever the W3C conceptualizes a standard for the WCAG, that standard undergoes multiple tests and reviews to further analyze what could be done better before it gets approved. It’s hard to completely cover all accessibility issues in a single set of guidelines, so the W3C makes sure to optimize each standard to increase its reach and effectiveness for each kind of disability. Since not all companies can also meet every single standard set by the WCAG, the W3C gives out three levels of compliance depending on the standards met by a company, ranging from A to AAA.
What are the Principles of the WCAG?
In its entirety, the WCAG 2.0 can be quite complex and lengthy for the average reader, even with the W3C’s efforts to make it clear by using segmented points and requirements. However, the core principles of the WCAG are easy to understand, and frankly, are all a business needs to lean on if it wants to achieve WCAG compliance.
The following are the core principles followed by the WCAG:
Online users perceive web content differently depending on their strongest senses and abilities. Some people rely more on visuals, others prefer audio and there are people who perceive things better through touch. In the context of accessibility, a company needs to consider multiple options in making their website content perceivable so that people with disabilities can have more flexibility in browsing their site.
For instance, websites should ensure that they put captions for videos, that all text on the website can be adjusted for contrast, color, text size and spacing, font, and other relevant factors that can allow people with visual impairments to better understand what’s written on the screen.
Operability refers to the options a web user has in browsing through the site and operating through its content. This principle is particularly relevant to people with motor disabilities, including those that have temporary injuries to their hands, arms, or limbs, people with weak muscles, and other movement issues. To pass the operability standard, a website should have alternative navigation options for the user other than by using a mouse. Most companies that pass this standard employ site programming that allows users to navigate their sites entirely by keyboard.
The website’s design and user interface should be easy enough for everyone to understand. Companies should refrain from adding highly technical terms or complex jargon that the average online user wouldn’t know. Additionally, the instructions for navigating the web page should be easy to follow to avoid confusion and complications while the user browses the website.
For a website to be acknowledged as robust, it has to pass two factors. First, it needs to use a clean HTML and CSS code that meets the W3C’s recognized standards. Finally, the website should be compatible with assistive tools that people with disabilities normally use to browse the internet.
Why was the WCAG updated?
Since WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008, technology has improved significantly, reshaping the digital world and further highlighting how powerful the internet has grown. There was a need to update the existing guidelines to ensure that websites are designed to optimize the latest technology when it comes to providing equal accessibility.
The WCAG 2.1 adds 17 new guidelines to adjust how websites should operate in these modern times. For instance, due to the increase in mobile users, WCAG 2.1 included updates on making sure that websites can also be used optimally with mobile phones.
However, most laws and regulations still only mention WCAG 2.0 compliance. This means that for all legal purposes, an organization only needs to comply with WCAG 2.0. While the W3C strongly recommends new websites to follow WCAG 2.1 instead for a more inclusive and mobile-friendly user experience, web developers aren’t bound by the law to comply with WCAG 2.1 unless there’s a law that explicitly tells them to.
A Final Word on WCAG 2.1 Compliance
The W3C created the WCAG standards to make sure that websites can provide all users, especially people with disabilities, with a comfortable and enjoyable online experience. The continually-changing technological environment prompts the WCAG to be updated from time to time to make sure it covers all the necessary bases.
Making sure that a website is accessible for everyone can only do a business good. It increases the website’s reach and maximizes customer satisfaction by being able to equally serve everyone who visits the site. Avoiding lawsuits concerning WCAG compliance should only be an added bonus to keep the business from losing money unnecessarily.
If your business needs help in creating a website that complies with WCAG standards, you can turn to Access-A-Pal for professional assistance. Access-A-Pal is an expert in accessibility and can make sure that your web content is optimized for all users, including people with disabilities. Contact Access-A-Pal now so that they can help you build and improve your website to provide complete access to every online user.